Another batch of Cold War-vintage A-10 “Warthogs” is on its way to Afghanistan, even though the Pentagon says it no longer needs the plane.
About a dozen of the snout-nosed “flying guns” will arrive in Afghanistan early this month as part of a six-month deployment for the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard, according to U.S. Central Command.
The deployment to Bagram Airfield within several weeks is part of a regular rotation that will replace an equivalent number of A-10s, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Sholtis, a spokesman for the U.S. Air Forces Central Command, said in an e-mail.
The decision to continue deploying the A-10 to a combat zone comes as the Defense Department is trying to convince Congress that the fleet of aging planes should be retired to save $4.2 billion over the next five years.
With its titanium armor, the A-10, conceived in the early 1970s to destroy Soviet tanks, is beloved by generations of soldiers and airmen for its ability to fly low to discern friend from foe and unleash more firepower than the average fighter plane. Its 2.5-ton Gatling gun, built into the plane’s nose to give it the snout-like appearance, can fire more than 1,100 30-mm rounds.
As more U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan, the A-10 may provide critical close-air support to Afghan forces as they continue to battle the Taliban.
The Pentagon is trying to make the case that the 283-plane fleet should be retired in an era of dwindling budgets because its mission can be handled by other aircraft.
The Air Force has told Congress that newer, faster planes such as the F-16, the F-15E, bombers and, eventually, the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter built by Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) can do what the A-10 does.
“Nothing has changed about our desire to retire this airframe,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement.
Congressional committees have taken steps to protect the plane by preserving funding for the A-10 for the fiscal year that began yesterday, although its fate awaits final action on defense spending bills.
As the political debate heats up, every movement of the A-10 is getting extra scrutiny.
An announcement by the Indiana National Guard that the planes were going to “the U.S. Central Command region” produced erroneous assumptions that the A-10s were heading to Iraq or Syria to combat Islamic State extremists. Central Command’s area of responsibility stretches from Egypt to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Representative Ron Barber, an Arizona Democrat whose district has more A-10s than any other, issued a statement last week praising the deployment “to the Middle East” as proof that “this aircraft is irreplaceable.”